The Five Rs of 21st Century Content Curation

Five-easy-pieces Why do I constantly update my Google Reader RSS feeds? Adding categories, fine tuning reading lists, then upsetting them all over again when I stumble upon several great sites.

That's because I rely on information discovery to push my own thinking.

The more I broaden and diversify my reading, chasing tangents, listening to, and verifying opposing views, the sharper my ability to see and make sense of trends.

Saying we have filter failure is not capturing the depth of the challenges we face.

Defining the problem

Real time streams and social graphs are training people to react. I see the transformation also in blog comments. It is tempting to use the seagull move — who has the time, right?

Reacting to information is the exact opposite of critical thinking

It will not help you or your business understand why a trend may be emerging, what it means to you, and how to reorganize your thinking about it. As more people and organizations become publishers, the merits of curating information as content strategy go up.

Curation, as in making sense, also has a prominent role in how organizations develop and transmit news. However, not all curation activities are created equal.

Five activities that pay dividends on content curation


There's no point producing content before you have a firm handle on what the target audience wants. Steve Jobs is a great example of the kind of preparation that goes into understanding your audience needs and building community.

For all the talk of listening and responding in social media and networks, few do integrate social listening into actual, traditional reseach. Focus groups, call out — even informal user surveys. There's no substitute for actual data.


People often say they want "variety" online. It turns out what they really want is to read their favorites more than stuff they like less. It's a balancing act introducing fresh ideas and replaying the ones that are still popular in social media.

Content should be rotated in the same way. Based on the research, divide content into ranked topics: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary.

Primary content should never be more than a click deep, and always in the view of someone visiting any site page. It should comprise about half what you publish, both in terms of volume and sequence.

Secondary content comprises the next 30% or so of your research tier. It exists to spread the product primary content. Tertiary content is for spice. If you maintain a blog-style story "waterfall," avoid posting secondary and tertiary content sequentially. A scan of the waterfall should tell your site's story in four or five titles.


The secret to successful publication is that on pretty much any given site, none of the best-scoring content is new. None at all.

Web content can work the same way. Much of a site's best material is buried the moment it rolls of the front page. This isn't just unfortunate for new visitors — established visitors will re-read hit content, too.

Find a way to highlight your archive material. If it's archived, it's dead. Find ways to suggest your most successful content to visitors. It's your best stuff. For example, I introduced a link to the most popular posts. I also routinely clean up and build upon older successful articles.


Websites must work hard to make sure their content is loud, punchy, and clear.

Take a look at your research — who is your average reader? If it's a small business owner — and you're writing a lot of content applicable to enterprise — well, you've got a problem. There is also a stylistic component to this.

A common problem online: Sites that are too cluttered, too physically difficult to read, and posts or pages too poorly arranged to be scanned.

Column widths should work out to about 13 significant words in whatever type size you've chosen. Sidebars should not beckon the eye from your copy (I cleaned up mine again recently). Subheads should break articles into bite-sized nuggets that cue the reader as to the content's relevance.

Are you over 850 words? Consider breaking the article into multiple parts. A wall of words is scannable, and your readers will move on to something else very quickly.


Few can remember where and when they actually read something. There's a lesson in this for web publishers: Brand strongly.

Find ways to get your name into site topics and features. Develop a visual identity and use it constantly. Write articles about your site. While search is an important means of content discovery, it plays little role in developing the perceived authority of that content.

This is a function of brand recall. Tell people who you are; tell them what you're about to deliver; tell them what you are delivering; tell them what you just delivered; and tell them again. Don't be shy.

[this article is under 850 words]


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0 responses to “The Five Rs of 21st Century Content Curation”

  1. Great post. Recurrence is a great tip. We forget that readers (especially new ones) are impatient, and if we don’t aim to show them our best stuff first, they may never come back. Great ideas in this article, Valeria.

  2. Solid, and actionable!
    I spend just about every morning reading my RSS feeds, which I’ve got broken down into several categories:
    dailies (where you show up)
    change agents
    misc social
    auto culture
    auto news
    I’ve also picked up some new subscriptions and ideas from the posts you’ve shared over time, Valeria. Those are often some of the biggest surprises of my morning. 🙂

  3. Excellent post. I so agree that reacting is the opposite of critical thinking. And your suggestions for how to do content curation well are helpful.
    Blogs like yours are helping to transform the social media culture from quick-responses to well-considered idea-sharing. And we’re watching in real-time as marketers learn how to become publishers.
    Thanks for the good thinking that goes into your posts!

  4. You’ve certainly given the word Curation an expanded meaning with these activities,- which proves the point I made a couple of months ago that Curation is becoming hyped and overused as a term,- to the point where it starts to lose its meaning
    But the relationship you’ve implied between curation and information discovery is a good one, although it doesn’t have to be as painful as maintaining RSS feeds.
    All things being digital, we’re all curators of our own destiny and that’s a good thing.

  5. Useful points for content marketers to bear in mind. It’s critical to see the content you present to your audience through their eyes. What matters is what they take away from it not what you present. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

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